Information literacy for online distance learners

One of the Masters programmes I support is entirely online, with students joining from all over the globe.

mapThis particular Masters is over three years (with completion of Postgraduate Certificate, Postgraduate Diploma and MSc for each respective year), and I have now ‘met’ online with all current three year groups; variously speaking on Welcome to the Library, literature searching, and Mendeley.

Although I’ve used Skype for library support in my previous role, it was usually on an individual basis; sharing screens to demonstrate database searching or troubleshooting, or for meetings rather than information skills. I’d not hosted a webinar before, but suddenly I had four in one week to deliver! And using an unfamiliar tool. An additional challenge was the timing; with students based in several time-zones, evening sessions worked out the best. I feel they went well; some technical issues for a couple of participants around lagging screens, but mostly I’m happy.

I am not saying my tutorials were excellent examples – in fact I cringe remembering one in particular – but I hope my observations will be useful to others who find themselves asked to deliver this kind of information literacy tuition.

Some tips and observations on online information literacy tutorials

  1. linkedin-sales-navigator-402819Have someone to support you – keeping an eye on questions, troubleshooting students’ IT queries, recording the session
  2. Entirely up to you, but I usually asked for questions in text comments while I was presenting, and then opened it up for questions and discussion afterwards. Someone with more confidence and experience may approach this differently, however.
  3. If possible and appropriate, ask participants to complete some preparatory work to save time and trouble in the tutorial. For example, I ran a Mendeley tutorial this week, and asked students to download the necessary software and plugins beforehand.
  4. It’s hard, when you can’t see your participants’ faces, to gauge understanding – you can’t see the confused looks when you start describing MeSH headings and Boolean combinations! I paused at suitable points for questions, and kept half an eye on comments (see No. 1)
  5. Live demonstrations will be that much more difficult. One day, the library discovery platform took offense to my flat and refused to load at home. It’s inevitable! So have back up slides with screenshots, just in case.

It’s hard to tell whether it’s the particularity of the online tutorials or this particular group, but I have had a lot of queries as a result of the sessions. I hope that’s because the sessions were good, rather than I left them completely confused. I’ve had good feedback so I hope that’s the case.

Other support, including VLE discussion boards


This particular Masters programme makes use of discussion boards in Blackboard Learn. Although a great mechanism for students to interact with one another and ask questions to tutors, I knew I’d find it difficult to monitor the boards for library-related queries in addition to my day-to-day work. The course tutors kindly offered to forward questions on to me by email, and so far this seems to be working. One particular student emailed me personally to ask her question, then offered to post the answer on the board; a really great idea of hers.

I’ve also used Skype for Business for one-to-one support – explaining complex literature searching techniques over email just doesn’t work! The ease of setting up a Skype for Business meeting and the screen-sharing was an asset. However, I’m aware not all the students on the programme have reliable internet connections, so this is not something I could necessarily offer to all. However, this is where the discussion board can again be useful – screenshots and instructions, although not ideal, are a good back up to meeting.

I’ve enjoyed stretching myself to deliver information literacy training in formats that are less familiar to me. Some hits, some misses, but overall I think it’s going well. I’m lucky that my colleague did a great job supporting this Masters in the past, so a lot of the hard work embedding IL has already been done for me, it’s just up to me to make it engaging (“just”!).

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